Bishop John's Lent message 2013
In his Lent message, Bishop John calls us to dream the dreams of children, and imagine what our lives would look like if we would allow Kingdom values to prevail in us, in our churches and in our communities.
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Full transcript of the message
In January I visited the Holy Land with two other bishops and several people from Christian Aid.
We had been asked to go by Christian Aid to visit some of the partners with whom they work in the West Bank and Gaza. It was a privilege to be able to see the good work they are doing at first hand and offer moral support.
We were fortunate to obtain a permit to visit Gaza and it was our two days there which affected me most. After its people elected Hamas in 2008, Israel imposed a blockade. This has meant that very little has found its way into what is effectively a vast and miserable prison for 1.6 million people, other than through illegal tunnels from Egypt.
The situation is pretty bleak but Christian Aid partners there like, for example, the Near East Council of Churches, are doing wonderful work. What was most heart rending was looking at the paintings of young people who were being counselled for trauma following last year's violence.
They pictured the stark contrast between life now in Gaza and how they would like it to be. Their pictures of the present were dominated by bombs dropping and rockets firing - as they did in November - and those of the future by images of peace and happiness.
The children spoke to us of what they wanted to do when they grew up: one wanted to be a doctor, another a teacher, another a lawyer - the ambition of all of them was to do something to help their fellow human beings in some way or other.
It was moving to witness these poor children dreaming dreams. As they did so they articulated a vision of Kingdom values incarnated in that sorry place. They dreamed of a Gaza in which Kingdom values of love, compassion, justice and freedom prevailed - and they wanted so much to contribute to bringing it about.
It's difficult to see how there is much chance of the future of which they dreamed being realised in Gaza any time soon but that didn't stop the hoping.
Hope is a central Christian virtue. It is, as was expressed in St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, on my return from Gaza, ‘believing against the evidence and then watching the evidence change'. Hope must seem well-nigh impossible for many people in Gaza.
It's difficult enough for many here in the UK - I think, for example, of the increasing number of people having to resort to using food banks which Christians are organising in towns and cities up and down the land, including several in our Diocese.
But if hope is possible in Gaza, it's possible here, and our calling as Christians is to be those who have it and embody it.
God in Christ gives us hope through the compelling vision he has put before us of the Kingdom of God in which ‘every tear shall be wiped away', in which there will be no more pain and injustice, no more oppression and violence, no more want and hunger. A world in which all things are made new in Jesus.
What I want to ask you to do this Lent is to dream dreams as did those children in Gaza.
What would things be like in your life, in your church and in your community if Kingdom values were to prevail? What would be different? What would things look like? Can you imagine it?
If you can imagine it, can you believe that it is just around the corner or, as Jesus put it, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand.'
It is, you see, and our happy calling is to discern that fact and then to play our part in making it a reality. When Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand he wasn't expecting those listening to sit back and wait for it to appear.
He was inviting them, as he is us, to work for it under God. He calls us to hope, to believe against the evidence and then play our part in making the evidence change before our eyes.
It is a matter of great joy to me that in this Diocese the people of our two hundred and eighty churches are doing just that. This was made clear at the beginning of this year when Bishop's Council looked at the findings of a ‘Kingdom People' report following analysis of the questions in last year's Archdeacons' visitations.
These questions sought to ascertain what churches are doing to work with God in the proclamation of the Kingdom to transform both individual lives and communities. An enormous amount of good work was uncovered, together with a thirst to do greater things.
The people of our churches are doing wonderful things but have a vision and a thirst for much more. I hope and pray that we shall all be able to use this Lent to dream of the ‘more' that God wants us to do.
The children I met in Gaza had a vision of a better future under God. What is your vision and will you strive in God's strength to bring it about? Will you have hope, as they did? Will you believe against the evidence and let the evidence change before your eyes.
May you be part of that change, enabling the Kingdom values of love, compassion, justice and freedom, those Kingdom values that characterise the reign of God, to take root in your life, in your church, in your community and in our world.
May God bless you as you seek to become Kingdom people embodying Kingdom values.
Bishop John's appeal for Peru
Bishop John is appealing for your support for the San Patricio mission in Peru.